South Alabama dodged tremendous bullet
Even though it's been 10 months since south Alabama was faced with the destruction brought by Hurricane Ivan, it seems like only yesterday that we were waiting in line for ice, trying to get trees off the roofs of our homes, and hoping that the next truck to come up the street would be carrying a crew to restore power.
Naturally, many of us were not expecting another storm that severe so soon, particularly since experts referred to Ivan as a "23-year storm." I for one would have been perfectly content to wait another two decades for a similar incident. Early last week, however, the images flashing across the television screen of Hurricane Dennis were leading many of us to think we should have thrown the 23-year theory out the window.
When we awoke Sunday morning, July 10, the news we were getting was not good: Hurricane Dennis, a dangerous category four storm, was bearing down on the Gulf Coast and was expected to make landfall somewhere around the Alabama/Florida state line. A slight jog east or west could dramatically affect both the impact point and the areas affected by the northeast side – the most dangerous quadrant – of the storm.
Of course, we're all aware of the end result of the storm, and where it made landfall. I think it appropriate to say here that our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in the panhandle of Florida, much of which is represented by my friend Congressman Jeff Miller of Chumuckla. His district took a direct hit from the storm and suffered serious damage from the high winds, tremendous rainfall, and strong tidal surge.
While the difficulties we faced in Alabama were certainly on our minds, the people of Florida – who suffered through four major hurricanes last year alone – were certainly left in a difficult position.
Closer to home, it's safe to say we dodged a tremendous bullet. The devastation of this storm in south Alabama could have been catastrophic, but thankfully we missed many of the more serious effects of this storm. That isn't, of course, to say that we completely escaped Dennis; several of the inland counties experienced widespread power outages, downed trees, heavy rain, and damage to many structures. Compared to what could have happened, however, the aftermath of the storm was better than expected.
I certainly think Gov. Riley, Alabama Emergency Management Agency (EMA) staff members, and our local emergency coordinators and elected officials deserve a great deal of credit for their leadership during this time.
During the past several days, the governor has come under fire for his decision to order a mandatory evacuation for all of Mobile County and all areas of Baldwin County south of Interstate 10.
I for one believe the criticism is unwarranted. As the governor and the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have both said, you make decisions in these situations based on the information available.
When a 145-mile-per-hour, category four hurricane is heading directly for your coastline your immediate thought is to get as many people as possible safely out of the path of the storm.
I commend the governor and everyone involved in the process for making their best analysis of the situation and taking immediate action to protect the many thousands of people who live in the southern part of Alabama. Had they not made this decision, and had Dennis made a direct hit on Alabama under the right conditions, the loss of life could have been catastrophic.
At this point, we are left with the process of recovering from this storm. For those of you who have been affected by Dennis, help is available. Within hours of the arrival of the storm, President Bush approved a disaster declaration for many areas of south Alabama in the path of the storm.
Baldwin, Mobile, and Escambia counties qualify for help through the individual assistance program, meaning that help is available for both individuals and households. The assistance through this program can be used by these groups for the repair or replacement of facilities, which have been damaged as a result of the storm.
Don't try and make the determination yourself as to whether you or your family qualifies for assistance. Officials with both FEMA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are available to help you work through the process, and I would encourage you to contact them.
In order to begin the process, you must first call FEMA, which can be reached by calling 1-800-621-3362. I encourage you to make contact with the appropriate officials as soon as possible.
And, as always, my office and I stand ready to assist you. You can reach us by calling 1-800-288-8721, and we'll be glad to do all we can to assist you.
My staff and I work for the people of south Alabama. Let us know when we can be of service.
Jo Bonner represents the people of this area in the U.S. H ouse of Representatives.